A lot, would be the simple answer.
Formula One’s new strategy group met yesterday to discuss all manner of sporting related topics such as tires, cost control and future rule changes. This all sounds wonderful, especially considering the difficulty that often accompanies any changes to the sporting regulations. What is not wonderful, however, are the entities missing from the discussion.
Whereas Marussia and Caterham would have had as much input into the decision-making process in the old Strategy Group, FOTA (Formula One Teams Association), they were nowhere to be seen in yesterday’s meeting. In fact, only half of the current Formula One teams have any input at all in the group. A so-called “Heritage” group of teams consisting of Red Bull, Ferrari, Mclaren, Mercedes, Lotus and Williams, along with representatives from the FIA, FOM and Pirelli are the sole movers and shakers driving sporting innovation forward. This is where the problem emerges.
It isn’t hard to see the logic in the makeup of the group. You could argue that these six teams are the most “important” of all, so their needs are placed slightly above the rest. But that is a very subjective stance to take on a matter that really should be approached with as much objective pragmatism as possible.
The problem we now face is that the sport’s elite are making major decisions. “Elite” isn’t a fun word to use, but Formula One brought this criticism upon itself when it decided that placing the opinions of one team over another was a good idea when regarding the longevity of the sport. Formula One has decided that Marussia and Caterham, Toro Rosso, Force India and Sauber, the sport’s fourth oldest team I might add (now there’s heritage for you), are not important enough to the sport to warrant an opinion from them. They weren’t present at the meeting yesterday, and neither were their concerns.
Eliminating the minority is a dangerous thing to do in any political situation. It renders the needs and concerns of an integral part of a population unimportant and not worth the time of the rest of the group or, in this case, the future of the sport.
Arguably the most important issue in Formula One today is cost control. Every bone of contention in the sport, be it the role of tires in racing, the lack of testing, the 2014 regulations and their impact on smaller teams (this concern won’t be as intensely voiced for reasons now apparent) or the need for pay drivers, stems from the elephant that is cost control.
It is a big elephant indeed, and it’s presence is a testament to how long the head honchos of the sport have taken, and are still taking, to resolve it. Cost control is a polarizing issue. In a simple world, there are two ways to solve polarization: talk it out in a respectful manner, making sure all sides of the argument are voiced in a bid to come to a decent compromise, or to eliminate one side of the argument from the discussion completely.
It seems the new strategy group has taken the latter route. Sure, one could argue that Williams (and perhaps Lotus) will be the staunch voices of reason in the midst of the cash-happy world Red Bull and the other teams live in. This could be the case. But considering it takes a 70 percent majority to make decisions in this strategy group, it would take a miracle for any left-field suggestions to gain any traction.
Force India’s deputy team principal Bob Fernley was quoted by Autosport saying of the strategy group, “I think the process we’ve had of Sporting/Technical Working Groups has served Formula One well. Yes, it’s got downsides, and it’s frustrating sometimes in terms of its ability to deliver quick results, but it’s a balanced approach in terms of measuring what the overall needs of Formula One are, as opposed to looking through the eyes of four very, very well-funded teams”.
This quote is extremely telling. First it reveals the inherent frustrations of being excluded from important discussions regarding F1 and secondly it underlines, quite subtly, the issue with the group’s members: they are very, very well-funded.
If this group is a balanced way of gauging the needs of the sport as a whole, then why are his and the rest of the excluded teams, as well as Williams and Lotus, being financially run into the ground without any means of getting out? There is something extremely angering about the way the sport has blatantly disregarded the desperate need for collective (all the teams) discussion about the direction of the sport in favor of appeasing the four richest teams. The final kick in the teeth comes from the thinly veiled and pathetic attempt at including the voice of the “masses”, so to speak, in the form of Lotus and Williams. Even these two are vastly better funded than some of the other teams struggling to get by.
We may applaud the decisions made at the end of yesterday’s strategy group meeting. It may mark the first time in a long time that real decisions were made regarding Formula One’s future. But the nagging feeling that much of the field will potentially suffer as a result of not having their opinions heard will always taint the legacy of this group.
The “elite” is undermining the needs of the Formula One grid. When Red Bull pulled out of FOTA it was only a matter of time before the rest of the grid followed suit. This is when Ecclestone took the opportunity to help form this new strategy group of the sport’s elite. It is a sad day, indeed, when the needs of others are disregarded. The sport will surely suffer for it in the long term.